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Rates (Increased Reduction for Recreational Hereditaments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 25th October 2016

I beg to move

That the Rates (Increased Reduction for Recreational Hereditaments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 be affirmed.

As an deis seo a thabhairt dom an rún seo a chur os comhair an Tionóil inniu.

The regulations that are before you are the Rates (Increased Reduction for Recreational Hereditaments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016. Before turning to the content of the regulations, I think that it is important to provide Members with some brief background and context to the statutory rule.

The rule is made under a new enabling power that is provided by the Rates (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. That Act came before the House in the previous mandate at the beginning of this year. It amended existing rating legislation in order to provide a power to enhance rate relief subject to criteria prescribed in subordinate legislation. It was the intention at that time to use the new power to enhance support to unlicensed community amateur sports clubs, subject to final consultation.

An eight-week targeted consultation took place earlier this year, which aimed to strike the correct balance between the views and interests of sporting organisations and the wider business and hospitality sector. These regulations now implement those consultation proposals, and I am happy to say that they will secure an increase to 100% rate relief for community amateur sports clubs without a licensed bar area on their premises.

I feel that my Department has struck the correct balance between the range of interests at play at this particular time in ensuring that the extra relief is targeted towards sports clubs that meet the criteria that are laid out in the regulations that are before you.

Looking to the future, I know that my officials are looking at other possible adjustments in this area; for example, the wider treatment of golf clubs — raised repeatedly by Mr Wells at the last Committee — which is an area that is not without its inconsistencies and was discussed as part of the Committee's policy consideration. Those other areas are not, however, the subject of the debate. The scope of the subordinate legislation is, as Members know, fairly limited and largely dictated by the primary legislative provision.

I will now turn to the technical detail of the draft regulations. Regulation 1 contains the citation, commencement and interpretation provisions. The rule will come into operation the day after it is affirmed by the Assembly. Regulation 2 provides that the reduction in the normal rate in accordance with article 31(3) and (4) of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 shall be 100% for a hereditament that is occupied by a community amateur sports club and is not a hereditament on which a person may under licence, other than an occasional licence, or a protection order sell intoxicating liquor by retail, or in respect of which a club is registered under the Registration of Clubs (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

An interpretation provision is also provided in regulation 3 to ensure that the use of the terms "occasional licence" and "protection order" are consistent with their meaning in the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

Now that the technical overview has been provided, I very much look forward to hearing Members' comments. I commend the regulations to the Assembly.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly DUP

The Minister has outlined that this statutory rule is being made under powers conferred by the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977.

I will speak first in my role as Chairperson of the Finance Committee. At the end, I will make some remarks, although they are not particularly controversial, in my role as a DUP member of that Committee.

The purpose of the statutory rule is to enable the Department to provide that the current relief may, in cases prescribed in the regulations, be increased from 80% to 100% of normal rates under article 31. As outlined, the changes are as a result of the Rates (Amendment) Act, which received Royal Assent shortly before the end of the last mandate. If I recall correctly — those who were Members in the last mandate will also recall this — there was some controversy around the private Member's Bill and some concern that the measures would not be taken forward. I am glad that the Minister has continued the work of the previous DUP Finance Ministers in examining and bringing forward this very welcome relief for amateur sports clubs.

At its meeting on 14 September, the Committee considered the policy proposals and questioned the departmental official on certain aspects of the proposed rule. One of the issues of interest was the occasional licence. Members were particularly concerned to make sure that the purpose of the relief, which is to help amateur sports clubs, would not have the indirect or unintended consequence of supporting what were, effectively, commercial hospitality businesses. We were satisfied, after listening to the official's evidence, that that would not be the case. In response, the departmental official highlighted that the proposal under the rule was to strike a balance. He highlighted that, as clarified during the Department's consultation, the policy would align with the treatment of community halls and that any further reduction under article 31 would be conditional on a community amateur sports club not being a licensed premises and on it being registered within the meaning of section 658(6) of the Corporation Tax Act. Members welcomed that clarification and were content on that basis. Following consideration of the policy proposals and the statutory rule, the Committee recommended, at its meeting on 28 September, that, subject to the report by the Examiner of Statutory Rules, the rule be affirmed by the Assembly.

The rating system here in Northern Ireland requires reform. We have had some discussions already with the Department and the Minister in that regard. I know that all members of the Committee have a determination to do what we can to listen to the concerns of businesses in relation to business rates and make sensible recommendations on a system that is fair and equitable and which encourages business growth. The Committee will look forward to considering the wider review of the non-domestic rating system, which the Minister is considering at this time.

Today is a good news day for amateur sports clubs. I know that they will welcome this much-needed relief. Many amateur sports clubs are very small, so it can be very difficult in terms of fundraising. I know that it will also be welcomed by the many thousands of volunteers who help out at those amateur sports clubs and donate their time to the local community for the benefit of it. In relation to the rules being considered today, I am pleased to say that the Committee for Finance and I support the motion.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

I welcome the rates reduction. Thank you, Minister, for taking it forward. When it came in front of the Finance Committee, as the Chair commented, it was universally supported. The only concern, and the Chair mentioned this, was the issue around the growing list of reliefs. I know that you are taking that forward now in terms of looking at the non-domestic rate in the round. That will be an opportunity to look at all reliefs and make a judgement on them in terms of what we need to bring in to fund government services here.

I think that there is universal support for this issue. I add my support to it.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister. I support the proposal before us today. It is very welcome news for amateur sports clubs. I will err on the side of caution; without putting words into Mr Smith's mouth, we had a statement this morning from the Health Minister outlining her vision for our health service over the next 10 years, in which she quite rightly pointed out the severe financial pressures that our health service is currently under and will continue to be under in future.

It is always welcome to be able to stand up as an elected representative and cut a tax policy, but it is also important that we remind ourselves that we have to bring in tax revenue — in this case, rates — to pay for our public services. On this occasion, considering that we are giving a tax exemption to sports clubs, which, in turn, promote health and well-being, this is a useful exercise today.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Minister for his announcement. Will he clarify — I am sure that he knows what I am going to ask next — that this will apply 100% rate relief to pigeon clubs? It was a very welcome introduction when he brought it about in October, and his predecessor had gotten into quite a flap about it.

[Laughter.]

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

It would be cuckoo not to include our friends in the pigeon-racing fraternity.

[Laughter.]

I thank Mr Swann for bringing me down to Cullybackey and introducing me to people who are involved in a community amateur sports club. They show the positive benefits that community amateur sports have on the community for health, well-being and community solidarity.

I thank all Members who contributed to the debate. I take on board very seriously the point raised by the Chairwoman of the Committee and Philip Smith that we need to make sure that we are not in any way creating a situation that will make it more difficult for businesses in the hospitality sector to do well. Mr Wells mentioned golf clubs, and we may return to that in the future. I think that we have struck the correct balance. We are giving help to community amateur sports clubs that do not have bars, and they will get 100% relief. I think that that is right.

I will finish with a point that John O'Dowd made. This will cost us and our community £750,000, and it is the right decision. Given the positive impact that community amateur sports clubs have on community and society, the benefits are boundless. At the same time, someone has to take up that slack. We are transferring that over to all ratepayers. With regard to what Mr Smith and Mr O'Dowd said, we need to find a way to bring in more money in the time ahead. It is wonderful to be popular and to relieve clubs or other bodies of a rate burden — in this case, I am pleased that we can introduce 100% rate relief for community amateur sports clubs — but we will have to knuckle down and find ways to bring in more money. I hope that people are as positive when I come to the House suggesting ways to bring in more money to provide services to our community as they are today.

I agree with the Chairwoman that this is a good news day, from the First Step Stimulus package this morning to sorting out and giving additional support to our community amateur sports clubs.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That the Rates (Increased Reduction for Recreational Hereditaments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 be affirmed.

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think that I was supposed to say, "I ask Members to support the measure, and I commend the regulations to the Assembly".

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

We have it on record now.